INTERVIEW BY STEVE OLSON
INTRODUCTION BY STEVE OLSON
PHOTOS COURTESY OF THE WORM
Big – Bigger – Huge… In a world of hype, some get it, some don’t, some need it, some don’t, get it, Good… Kevin Anderson is like Coke… The real thing… Some follow… Others lead, and some just are. Some slam, and then stop… As the old saying goes, ‘No pain, no gain.’ Then there are the ones that are just insane… If you didn’t see it when it was happening, neither did ‘The Worm’. He was busy doing it, being it, and feeling it… Never before and never after it, Kevin Anderson was Kevin Anderson being himself, and no one else!
“I WANTED MORE OF A RUSH. I WANTED TO FIND THINGS THAT WERE BIGGER, HIGHER AND STEEPER. POOLS JUST REPLACED BOWLS COMPLETELY.”
It’s go time.
I promise I’ll tell the dirt. No Dogtown stories.
There is no other story.
[Laughs.] Well, maybe there’s the true story.
Kevin Anderson, better known as ‘The Worm’.
Where does ‘The Worm’ come from?
I’m from Hermosa Beach, CA, the South Bay.
How did you get nicknamed ‘The Worm’?
It came from my surfing days. A fellow surfer was up on the pier one day watching me paddle out, and he yelled, ‘You paddle like a worm!’ It stuck ever since. We had another friend called ‘The Snake’, so I couldn’t be that. So he came up with ‘The Worm’.
Where did you grow up?
I was born in Memphis, TN. I was basically dropped off from an airplane, born and then taken right out of there. My dad was a lifer in the service, so we traveled everywhere he had to go. We were stationed in 20 different homes in ten years.
How did you end up in California?
First, I lived in the New York, in the Bronx, for a while. Then we stopped through Memphis. From Tennessee, we went straight to New York. Then we moved to Virginia Beach, and then we moved to San Diego. That’s where I first started skating, when I was four or five years old.
What year was that?
It was 1959. It was the ‘Gidget’ movie that got me into skating. I saw Moondoggie and I wanted to do the same thing he was doing. I figured if I couldn’t have a wave, I’d just surf on the concrete, so that’s what I did.
You were skating when I was born.
[Laughs.] Is that what it was?
Did you have your regular, typical skateboard?
No. I ripped my sister’s skates apart and nailed them to a 2×4. I’d never seen a skateboard in my life. I was trying to imitate the surfboard that I saw on TV. That’s why I paddled that way. I lay down on my stomach and paddled into my first concrete wave. I hit a drain ditch cover and went flying about half the block. I skinned myself up. Then I said, ‘I’ll do it again.’ Ever since then, it was an addiction that would never end.
You’ve been skating that long?
It’s been 46 years. I just turned 51 in December.
That’s crazy. I didn’t know you started that young. You surfed as well?
I didn’t start surfing until we moved to the South Bay in ’69. We were 20 miles from the ocean on the backside of Camp Pendleton when I was six years old. That’s where my dad was stationed. Then we moved to Lawndale. From Lawndale, we moved to Hermosa.
You’ve been in Hermosa ever since?
Yeah. I’ve been here since ’69. I got lucky enough to start surfing.
Were you longboarding?
No. My first board was 5’1′.
It was a total mistake. It took me four months just to stand up.
It was almost like a kneeboard.
Yeah, it was pretty crazy. I was just so excited. The board was only $35. Of course, my next board was a 7-footer, and then I was all over the place.
Surfing and skating went together?
Oh, yeah. My skating led me into surfing.
What did you skate when you moved to Hermosa?
We skated the banks on the streets at the beginning. Then we found out about The Funnel.
Tell me about The Funnel.
It was two walls starting off at about 2-feet high going downhill at about a 40-degree angle and going up to 100-foot walls at the end. It was the length of a football field. It was just like surfing. It would get steeper at the end and give you that feeling of hitting the lip.
Was the Funnel the same thing as the Vermont Drop?
Yeah. It’s the same place.
Did you own that place?
The city probably thought so. I put my own lock on the gate, so I wouldn’t have to jump it.
Who found the Funnel?
We were just driving around looking for places. We’d heard about a place with banks out on Vermont, so we went out there and found them. There was no one riding out there in those days, no one at all. We started riding it, and then everyone came out of the woodwork. It turned into mass mania with the bowl riding. We found a few pools that were really tiny. There was a hotel pool that was close to the Funnel. That was one of the first pools we rode. That was in ’71.
Who did you skate with?
Brady Bacon is a name I remember.
When I say you owned The Funnel, I mean that you were the guy that ripped it the hardest. That’s what I remember.
Well, if you read most of the articles that were written back then, I was just another hot local. The only reason you’d say I owned the place was because I did things no one else did there back in those days. Then everyone started seeing things and getting better ideas of what to do, and it progressed from there. Brady Bacon used to do 360s all the way down the wall. I’d do powerslides for 50 or 60-feet.
What do you mean by a powerslide? What kind of powerslide?
It’s just like doing a cutback on a wave frontside. You’re going backside and then all of a sudden you do a frontside cutback on a wave. In my case, I’d do the cutback, but I’d keep sliding down the bank for about 50 feet. I’d use my hands to rotate myself around as I was sliding to get back in position to hit the other wall.
What kind of board were you riding then?
It was a 3-foot board. It was probably 3 1/2 inches wide. It was covered in sandpaper that was taped on the deck. There was no grip tape back then. We had to change our tape almost every day. It would just get ripped to shreds.
How did you get to be the South Bay pool guy?
Back in those days, there weren’t that many people riding pools. Vertical skating was just out of reach for most people. The banks and bowls led us to pools. You came off the street and then you hit the banks and then you wanted to get more of a rush, so you started hitting bank to wall. Swimming pools were ideal because the transitions were smooth and perfectly designed for what we wanted to do, which was to imitate surfing. I started finding all the pools, and telling people, ‘Hey, let’s go.’ I’d adopt skaters that I didn’t know and take them with me, because I didn’t have a ride. I couldn’t drive.
You needed a chauffeur.
I needed a chauffeur, and a million dollars, too. My family wasn’t that rich. I had to support myself.
When did you start working at E.T. (Surf Shop)?
I started working at E.T. when I turned 15. I lied and said I was 16. At that time, you couldn’t work unless you were 16.
Why do you think that you were more advanced then most other guys in pools?
A lot of people didn’t want to take the risk.
And you didn’t care?
It wasn’t that I didn’t care. I wanted more of a rush. I wanted to find things that were bigger, higher and steeper. Pools just replaced bowls completely. The rush of the bowl was power skating and going really fast and pumping off corners. With vertical, you didn’t have to do anything. The pump was so simple. You could just jet yourself up onto a 16-foot wall by only going 10 miles an hour.
How would you look for pools? How would you network pools?
People traded information. Sometimes we’d see something on TV that gave us an idea of areas that were being closed. When the airport area first closed, we had like, 50 pools over there. There was no reason for us to go anywhere else in those days. We had 50 pools right in our neighborhood. One of them would be condemned each month, so it lasted for years. It was pretty cool. It was easy. We’d drive around neighborhoods and look for big trash containers outside of houses. That was an indication that something was going on, so we’d jump the fence to see what it was.
Did you have any crazy run-ins with people?
We got shot at once, when we were in the ghetto. We jumped the fence and this guy was on the other side. He just tried to blow us away. That was probably the nastiest one we ever ran into.
Did you ever get busted by the cops for skating pools?
We got arrested for skating a pool that had been a murder scene. We crossed the yellow crime scene tape. We emptied the pool and at the bottom of the pool was a Chevy engine. The water was black, so we couldn’t see. When we bailed it, the engine started showing up in the deep end. We had to put a chain around it and haul it out into the shallow end so that we could ride. We only got to ride for about half an hour before the cops showed up. We destroyed a lot of evidence, because the water went into the house. The cops were really pissed at us. We had to go to the District Attorney Garcetti’s office. The pool was a murder scene, but the evidence they needed had already been taken out, so it didn’t get destroyed. Finally, they let us go. We got a slap on the hand and a ‘Don’t let us see you do it again.’
What were some of your favorite pools back then?
Probably Del Dias. It was steep. It only had three feet of curve. It was a 9-foot pool.
You truly dug vertical.
Yeah. When Paramount opened, I didn’t skate anywhere else after that, except Upland.
Paramount was the monster bowl of monster bowls.
Yeah, it was the biggest bowl ever made. The funny thing is, as much as I rode that place, there were only two or three other guys that ever rode it with me. There were 100 pros on the circuit and none of them rode it. It was just me and two other guys. Even the guy that designed it, Waldo Autry, didn’t like it. I can’t say he was scared, but he didn’t want to go up to the top of that thing too many times. It was quite the fall.
You also had the hugest elbow, no?
You mean the calcium cartilage deposits?
Yeah. Repetitive motion creates that. I have them in my hips, too. Every time you get a hipper, the calcium cartilage deposit grows.
Wow. Wait a minute. Did you skate with Waldo at Mt. Baldy?
Yeah. The first time that I rode with Waldo was at the Long Beach pool. A lot of people think that was one of the first pools ever ridden. It wasn’t, but it was one of the first pools ever ridden that we were doing kick turns in. Waldo was just carving at the Long Beach pool. I was doing frontside kickturns with that 3-foot longboard inside that pool. One time I got so excited, I shoved the board in my mouth and knocked my teeth out. That was the first time I hit coping.
Yeah, then I started doing a different style of frontside.
Your style of riding was unique compared to everyone else’s.
I think my style is what made my skateboarding more outstanding to other people than just regular skaters. My style made me look like I was going to eat shit at every turn. I looked like I was going straight back into the drain on my head. I was heading right for it and then at the last second, I’d just whip around it.
How did that develop?
I got that from surfing. It was that same feeling of hitting the lip on a wave. You’d let your tail end slip around a little and keep looking out at the ocean and keep coming down. I’d get that feeling in the water and think I could do that on a vertical wall, too. And it worked.
How did you get into pipe riding?
There was a pipe that was underneath Alondra Park in Lawndale. I rode a pipe before I rode a pool. It was a pipe that went underneath the parking lot near El Camino, right next to the LA River. The pipe dumped right into the LA River. It came out of this big cage. It was only a 12-foot pipe, but we had to see what it would be like. So we climbed in and skated it. Later, we tore the gate down.
Do you think the sensation of riding a pipe is close to surfing?
It’s as close as you’ll get to surfing. You can get totally upside down. When you’re at 10 o’clock, you feel like you’re on the lip of a wave and you’re just lucky to come down alive.
Do you like big pipes or little pipes?
With pipes, the bigger, the better. When they get to be 40-feet, it just feels like a bank though.
Yeah, unless you get towed in on a motorcycle.
That’d be cool. Just recently, we had those 30-foot metal pipes down in Long Beach. We were just waiting for them to be uncapped. Then one day, they were. We went over there and they were full of soot, two feet deep. It took us hours to clean that stuff out, but it was sure worth it. It was raining when we rode it, and the rain would mist and cover the pipe with water, but the thing would still grip like glue.
What was inside the pipe?
It’s gas residue.
What kind of gas?
Is that good for you?
It’d probably kill you after a while.
What do we know? We just went in there and cleaned it and rode it.